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Opinion and Analysis: Social Programs

A Leap Forward: Higher Education in the Bolivarian Revolution

Andrés Eloy Ruiz is the rector of the revolutionary Universidad Bolivariana de Venezuela (UBV). More than a university, the Bolivariana is a countrywide system of campuses and the incubator and administrator of Misión Sucre,[1] a higher education network that extends from the barrios of Caracas and Maracaibo to the towns in the llanos and the remote villages in the Amazon, covering close to 100% of the national territory. The UBV’s program is based on inclusion of previously excluded sectors; a socialized education that has at its core ties with the community rather than a cloistered student and teacher; and the collective formation of new citizens who will lead and participate in the construction of Venezuela’s 21st century socialism. These goals require a radical rethinking of a university model inherited from Europe and the United States. If that is a tremendous task, it is also a central one to Venezuela’s Bolivarian process, which has placed education at its center from the beginning – so much so that the 1999 Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela granted the right to higher education to all citizens. The latter is a guarantee which the government has made good on, resulting in a current total of some 350,000 new students in university-level education programs – a number that is rapidly growing, as Misión Ribas, the high school-level program, graduates hundreds of thousands. We spoke with Eloy Ruiz in his tenth floor office in the Caracas campus of UBV, where the university has been headquartered since its founding in 2003.

 

You have spoken about how when education becomes commodified, this results in efforts to keep down the numbers of the educated to preserve the commodity’s market value. That strikes us as a very incisive analysis. Could you talk about this logic of the market and the other differences between neoliberal education and the education that is imparted here at the UBV?

Education always has a role associated with the productive apparatus and the model of society that one has. For many years Venezuela was conceived by those who governed it as a monoproducer of petroleum – not a manufactured product but a raw material – which was going to be sold to another nation that would transform it. We sold petroleum, aluminum, and iron, but not plastic, processed aluminum, or iron beams to make bridges. This is an economic model that is called “dependent” – it does not think about independence, let alone inter-dependence. The way things worked then was that there were principles of exchange that were fixed by a more powerful metropolis.

The United States as el gran capital played that role for us. The education that develops in a country in such a position is of course subsidiary. In our case, it led to the development of an education oriented towards administering, not toward making or constructing. This administering was in the service area rather than the technological area – it was not even in the agricultural area or in food production. In all, courses of study were developed for administrators who would manage and consume technology rather than produce it. One can verify this when one sees the curricular model. As an example, here, now, there are private universities that teach industrial engineering and by the seventh semester, the students have not seen a turbine – they have not armed it, they have not unarmed it. They have not even seen it! What they are doing is following the ritual of the formation of engineers. That model of the engineer comes out of wanting to have engineers that, when a problem emerges, can pick-up the manual for the imported turbine and perhaps resolve it. It responds to the neoliberal model: each country is assigned a role, and education is directed towards the recreation of that model.

The education imparted in the Fourth Republic[2] was conceived for small groups. It was not intended to even out differences, to provide to the student who did not have access to books at home the same knowledge as the kid who did. Instead, the education we had here – and that we are today eliminating – was one that actually acted as a multiplier of differences. If you had a father who read books and had a library at home, you with your privilege, received the very best education. All this in the public education system!

In 1968 and 1969 private higher education emerges in Venezuela. At the end of the 1950s, there was one private university, but in 1998 there were more private than public universities. In the 1960s the prestigious universities were still public, but in the 1990s the private ones had taken that position in many fields. Why did this happen? Because of the massification in education – the push so that all children go to school, then to high school. In this situation, how is the elite to maintain its privilege? The answer is that the private education system gains force. The best professors go to the private universities. As a result the private education system accumulates surplus value and conditions of excellence, and at the same time educational and economic deficit is accumulated in the public sector. Then, following another neoliberal behavior, investment is placed where it yields most profit and not where it is most necessary. Hence, the investment was in those schools in which the students brought a previous cultural investment because the parents had a library. So in 1998 you went to a public school, and it did not have a library. On the other hand, in a private school there was a library.

This happened first in the segregation of the circuits preceding higher education. Then, at the higher education level, the phenomenon of segregation reshapes itself. In certain areas education is expensive. If you are going to teach medicine, you need a hospital, whereas for architecture you need space and labs. So how did the “elite educational system” work? The model said that if you went to a private school, you would go on to the prestigious tracks in the public higher education system because the private universities could not afford the needs of those tracks. The logic went like this: “Our kids are the best prepared so they will get in; the kids from public schools will not be able to make it in because ours have taken all the spots.” Entrance exams then tested in favor of the kind of knowledge that had been acquired by the kids in private schools. In all these ways, the public universities, which should have been there to serve the majority, were kidnapped by privilege, and ended up with a student body 90% of which came from the private, privileged education sector.

In parallel, it was also necessary to restrict the growth of the public higher education system to avoid loss of value. This was done through purely quantitative exams, other elitist forms of measuring education levels, and with the agreement of public university administrators and professors (who were bought off, co-opted, by the privilege that their kids got who were allowed into these universities without entrance exams). Thus the preferred tracks like medicine, engineering, and law were closed off. The needed expansion of the education system to match the population growth then went towards other tracks such as education, administration, and service tracks.

What this model allows is the following: Externally, the country does not threaten the mold that was being assigned it by neoliberalism: producer of raw materials, dependent on the exterior. Internally there was a system that guarantees that “elite” professions were held by the economical elite.

So while the Bolivarian government treats higher education as a right, the previous governments treated higher education as a commodity. It was a commodity to be reserved and especially in its most prestigious tracks for the elite.

Right. All this began to change timidly in 1998, and then in 2003, the year of the birth of the misiones, it began to change drastically. In 2003, we had a massive push towards education, which included the implementation of “alphabetization” (literacy programs) all the way to higher education programs: Robinson 1, Robinson 2, Ribas, and Sucre.

What we had to accomplish in Misión Sucre (the higher education program) was different from what had to be accomplished in other misiones. Literacy programs can be carried out anywhere. Elementary through high school has an infrastructure of school buildings that had not been not doing its job but was there, even if often without working bathrooms or light bulbs. In terms of university-level education, on the other hand, of 325 municipalities that the country has, higher education was only offered in 71. The thing is that if you want to make higher education available to everybody you cannot move everyone to those 71 municipalities. The opposite is necessary. Because we have a political program in which if you have finished high school you have the right to higher education – which we call “la universalización del derecho” – then we have to take the education to the people: the municipalization of education. So for Misión Sucre, we had as a strategy of municipalization; that is, developing an educational system in every municipality, with a formation method in which the community and the workplace, in situ, become key. Thus, class environment learning can operate with presence-based teaching, materials that are non-presence-based (teleclasses, internet-assisted learning) combined with the institutions’ obligation to form in their area. In other words, schools have to play a role in the formation of teachers, whereas hospitals must play a role in the formation of doctors.

How is this working? This program has allowed us to incorporate some 350,000 people to the higher education system in three years, and we can safely say that we are succeeding. But what we have to do now is to take measures so that we don’t loose these tremendous gains and make sure that the education is in fact sustained in the labor context and in the community. We have had huge successes in two programs: formation of doctors (centered in Barrio Adentro) and of teachers (centered in schools). Students of these programs are being formed and working in spaces of the community: schools and medical centers. Now we have 14,000 medical students in the system: we call it integral medicine. Those are going on to first year now (after pre-med). We are getting ready to receive 13,000, and for next the year we are going to make a very large call.

With these numbers, people are asking me: “What do we do with so many doctors?” Well, the truth is that a doctor can help in many contexts outside of the doctor’s office or the emergency room. Plus, a doctor is not in the service of a country but of all humanity. The fact that the Cubans were able to part with 14,000 doctors to start our public heath care system is proof of that. That is how doctors should be: people offering health to all peoples. There was an earthquake in Pakistan, but no doctors in large numbers could be deployed except from Cuba. When there was a Tsunami, Cuban doctors were deployed by the thousands. We hope that there will be enough doctors here to provide excellent healthcare to Venezuelans, Latin Americans, and to provide it everywhere where needed. In this sense 14,000 is a very small number. In Africa hundreds of thousands of doctors are needed, and in Latin America alone more than 100,000 doctors are needed today. It is an effort that we are making that should not be seen in a quantitative form – how many doctors' offices to be filled – but should be seen in terms of the social function that doctors should fill. We have also been very successful in the formation of teachers – we have 100,000 in formation. We call this a silent and subtle force, which is not visible yet, but in two to three years the impact of these teachers is going to be important. The teachers will come into the old schools and the new schools with a social formation.

We are proceeding slowly in the technological part of the education, which is necessary in remote areas – teleclasses, internet-assisted learning – but little by little we are learning and advancing. Nevertheless, this year, between June and September, we printed two million books. This is very important because we provide students with all the books they need – so we do not depend on kids having the money to go to a bookstore and buy a book from a major corporate publisher. We are also implementing a plan for libraries that will reach all municipalities – it is still developing. And we are also still in the learning phase concerning the integration of other institutions into the formation process. It is very obvious how to do this in medicine and teacher formation. But for instance in environmental studies, what is the relevant institution? In fact, we are beginning here from the Bolivariana to work in that direction. For instance, every environment student should be in a Mesa Técnica del Agua, a program of trash recycling, a reforestation program, or a program to curb the emission of green house gasses. As we come closer to the Ministry of Environment, we begin to understand better what is our role, that of the students, and what the role of the ministry can be in relation to our students. In fact, we are beginning to work together now in this area – students integrated in the actual work . . .

We need horizontal spaces, a new model of social communication. All this, of course, must be tied to an educational change. In that sense Misión Sucre has maintained the connection of students with real communitary spaces. This is a real success. All the students have to be connected with a community – and that is part of the curriculum. Here, specifically at the Bolivariana, the central unit of the curriculum is called “proyecto,” a hands-on community-based project. That is true of all the tracks, even if you are studying to be a fossil fuel technician. What this means is that you are not studying for yourself but in a social context and reality. If you study to be an electrical technician, you must be able to help a community that has electrical problems, a barrio where the electrical infrastructure is a mess of cables. You must be able to encourage the rational use of energy in the barrio. In this sense we are really succeeding. Our students are developing a much higher level of political awareness and a higher degree of connection with the community.

The modern university was born in the Germany states in the 18th century and central to its structure are a set of very conservative mechanisms – including the existence and separation of the departments and the relation between professors and students – that are geared to preserving the status quo, to preventing all progressive, let alone revolutionary change. By contrast, the Universidad Bolivariana is part of a process of revolutionary change, integrally tied to it. Can you talk a bit about this, this non-separation between academia and life, including its structural basis?

The modern university comes from the medieval university, and there are two large varieties of the latter: schools connected to the area of formation for work, as is the German model, and then also the more prestigious university in Germany, which was where the philosophers were. That is a model in which the university is clearly separated from the work spheres. Then there is the model of the academia that is separated from real life – France, Italy…. That kind of model still persists in some ways among our faculty. Some professors come with the expectation of being a professor. They behave in the very same way that they saw their professors behave in the conservative university. So they say, well, I do vote for Chávez but I am a university professor. They do not yet interpret themselves as dynamic subjects in a collective with the students.

In fact, professors should be the enthusiastic ones in terms of the curricular unit called proyecto, but occasionally they want to administer the projects from this building. That cannot be. They must work on the projects from the community. With the students, their attitude should be “Hey, look, let’s all go to this assembly.” But what can happen is that students do their proyecto, a day this week, three days next week, and so on, and the faculty does not actually go to the community, because the professor prefers the space of this building. “You go to the community, I told you already how to do field work, you bring me the research, and I tell you what is right, what is wrong.” What we are seeking instead is an investigation-action participant, a professor who is a leader of the process of learning but also a full participant in the process of connection with a community in which, with the knowledge that both students and faculty have, the community’s problems can be resolved. That way of seeing things is not yet common among our professors. –Here, though, I have to distinguish between two kinds of professors: the ones at the Universidad Bolivariana who work out of here and those in Misión Sucre who work out of the Aldeas Universitarias, who are actually much more engaged and enthusiastic about the proyecto.

A detached behavior on part of the faculty can also make the integration of the disciplines more difficult. If two students are doing work in La Vega – say you as a comunicador social and myself as an environmentalist – the way that this is understood by the students as led by the professors is sometimes that you work on your free newspaper or with a consejo comunal[3], and I do the recycling work there or look into the issue of dirty waters. To each his own. When actually, the ideal would be if you and I worked as a team in La Vega, even if our areas of study are not the same, an academic-communitary team that attends to a complex, diverse, multiple reality that should lead towards inter- and trans-disciplinarity work where the needs of social communication are tied to other needs of the community. We have to get out of the atomized mindset in which the fields are working in an isolated way and even competing.

We also have something else that we are reversing here, but that takes some time. That is the relationships of power that are reproduced between students and faculty – a conservative exchange. We have not yet been able to fully break with that relationship in which the teacher manages his position of knowledge from a position of power: “Since I am the one who has the knowledge, I have a vertical relationship with you, one of oppression.” This is something subtle, but if you receive your education in a context in which things are hierarchical, you are receiving your education in a context that does not lead to liberation but to domination.

I believe we are on the way to constructing a popular, revolutionary school, but we have a long path to walk. We have planted the seeds and we have the first shoots of what will be a popular revolutionary university. For instance, for me it is clear that the administration of the university should be shared – which does not mean that we should make a university council in which there are two representatives of the faculty, two of the student body, two of the administration, two of the janitorial force. Instead we aim to turn the administrative processes to those who are receiving the education, including the building or a curriculum, changing each year. If we were not being attacked from the right wing and from the traditional conservative universities, then we would go to each entering class and we would say: Look, this is the curriculum for now, but in fact it is going to be changing as we learn and shape this university together. Those who attack us would say that is crazy, but in fact one’s experiences change. For example, a journalist this year who was a journalist last year learned certain things that inform the practice of journalism now.

Going back to the shared administration, our students are now overseeing the remodeling of the cafeteria, as social comptrollers. But as we grow students should actually be involved in all aspects of a renovation, not only overseeing the remodeling, but also design of the facility. The students will be participating in the plan for the cafeteria: if the students want the cafeteria to be open longer hours, for instance, and there are no funds that the student group can allocate to that, then the group must think about creative alternatives, such as each student volunteering three days of the school year to maintain the longer hours. The mercantile system says that as a “consumer of education” I make a demand, which I expect to be fulfilled. Ideally in the future the students will lead the way in deciding that the cafeteria must be remodeled, work to allocate the funds for it, oversee the renovation, and possibly volunteer in the construction. Look, Che Guevara took one day of his week, Sunday, to help in the construction of schools or work in a factory or cut sugarcane. He participated in the social and productive organization that requires the participation of everyone. Physical work is not above intellectual work; instead, the two should be integrated. Fortunately, we are beings that have limbs and muscles…

Could you speak a bit about the relationship between the model of popular education as Paulo Freire and others conceived it, and the thought of Simón Rodríguez, the teacher of Simón Bolívar? Are there contradictions, concurrences?

 

From Paulo Freire I would like to highlight the idea that education is the development of the consciousness of a person. Freire talks about a state of intransitive consciousness that is equivalent to believing everything that El Nacional says: one sees a McDonald’s, one is hungry, and one eats there. Then there is a moment in which there develops a “clever” transitive consciousness, an in-between state: you begin to awaken, and may be realize that there is a state of rights. An example of this state could be that of the buhoneros (merchants in the informal economy) when last week, they attended the march demanding social security, something that the government had already granted them two years ago. They mobilize with some vague consciousness of what the Bolivarian Constitution grants them, with a specific demand, not realizing that the demand has already been granted. A critical, reflexive perspective is missing here – a perspective through which growth is possible, growth into a collective and participation in it consciously. A critical consciousness that will allow one to participate in the community productively – consciousness as emancipation of the individual and the collective emancipation. That is the goal of our educational project – project expressed by Rodríguez when he says “Teach-inform and you will have someone who will say, educate and you will have those who will do.” He means by this that there is a difference between teaching and educating.

Rodríguez also said, “The force of custom has been compared with the force of a torrent,” and, “Man is not like monkey to reproduce without direction, man is one who must transform.” When you read this and compare it to Freire, you see that there is a continuity with Rodríguez’s concept of popular liberational education. Freire’s work on education is a continuation of a revolutionary republicanism. Rodríguez’s thinking persists in the humanist thinking of Martí, the Chilean school, José Carlos Mariátegui. In other words, there is continuity in the humanist thinking of Latin American philosophers: education for liberation is one that keeps people from staring at the stars and instead makes people work from their roots in this world – always with the aim of construction. Again Rodríguez writes: “The teacher is not the one who dictates what must be learned but the one who teaches how to learn” – totally Freirian. The two come out of the same humanist tradition in which education must equal liberation.

You mentioned the pressures the right wing is putting on the UBV. They also attack the whole Bolivarian education system, literacy misiones included, astoundingly calling their participants “parasites.” (Next they will be killing the first-born children!) What is it like to work in these conditions? What are the effects of these attacks?

In Chile the right wing tried to discredit Allende’s government with the same slogans as they use here (“Leave my children and my property alone”), but these slogans did not work internationally. Now, the right is working at the international level too, in another way. Needless to say it is very dangerous that in some U.S. schools students are getting world maps in which the Amazon, both in Brazil and in Venezuela, is marked not as territory of those countries but as a “federal reserve of humanity.” This is what is being given to 10-year-olds, so that in 15 to 20 years those same kids, then adults, can be told that these countries – Brazil and Venezuela – are taking the resources (a bitter lie) that belong to humanity. The United States is preparing the military invasion of Latin America in 20 years. Along the way the U.S. empire needs docile governments, poverty, an uneducated populace, lack of technological development – to be able to do what was done in Iraq.

Following this scheme, the right wing here and the U.S. government are on an international mission to discredit the misiones. There is a document that is circulating by a Venezuelan professor teaching at U.C. Berkeley. This is an international attack on the misiones: both health and education. On the other hand, internationally, risk investment companies rate Venezuela among the best. Actually, if anything, this is a concern for a socialist: there is still a possibility to accumulate and concentrate wealth. This is what allows for international risk qualification companies recommend investment here. Then, of course, there is also prosperity based on three things: First, the recovery of oil prices, due in large part to the policies of the Bolivarian government, which are tied to a nationalist politics in relation to the petroleum resources – nationalist politics that say that the petroleum resources belong to the country where they exist and not to corporations, and that they must be exploited to the benefit of the people who live in that country. The second factor fostering prosperity is carrying out of commercial exchange with fiscal discipline. But what is the difference between the fiscal discipline that we apply and that promoted by the International Monetary Fund? The IMF says that you should have a very small government and no social investment, and following on all that, that individuals should not spend. Ultimately this kind of fiscal discipline is about generating a situation in which capital can easily exit the country and enrich abroad. That was done in Argentina, which ended with the corralito, and most everywhere throughout Latin America. In Chile, of course, the Chicago School and the IMF applied a different method: the blood method to control the economy and ensure that capital can easily flow north. By contrast, fiscal discipline in Venezuela today consists of control in terms of the exchange balance most fundamentally and the adjustment of the state budgets. This ensures that profits can be reoriented to plans like Barrio Adentro, Robinson, Sucre, Ribas, Mercal, etc. The bureaucratic costs of the misiones are infinitely smaller than, the cost of a ministry, for instance, which is much older and has a large structure and overhead. Misiones are new structures that are based on other schemes of expense distribution. In Misión Sucre, for instance, the students themselves will change a light bulb or make some other sort of improvement because they are committed to the misión.

In fact, the battle we are fighting today in terms of education is the same one that was being fought 100 years ago, when the national assembly and the minister of education were arguing that there was no need to make any more schools, that there were enough schools – 24 official public schools – to fulfill the needs of the country. The right wing today argues the same. No one imagines that a country can exist with 70% of the population having higher education. Yet with our goal of building a society in which people have a socialized notion of community, responsibility, etc., with ecological and human consciousness – all that makes it necessary that all people receive higher education. That is why Mision Sucre reaches from the poor barrio to the remote Amazonian indigenous community and is imparted to 20- and 30-year olds, but also to 40-, 50-, 60-, and 70-year-olds. We believe that the first kind of socialization happens in the family, political socialization – what Norberto Bobbio calls “becoming a citizen” – must happen in higher education.

All this is an important discussion, which is not the discussion of the “patria socialista,” but a discussion around setting the foundation on which a socialist world can exist. You cannot talk about socialism if people don’t have an education. You cannot talk about socialism if people don’t have health. You cannot talk about socialism if people don’t eat, or if people aren’t able to get a job. So what we have done so far is, having cleaned up the weeds, we have planted the new seeds; we have watered them and cared for them, now we see the first sprouts coming up. This is what we are doing not only in education and health, but also fiscally. Fiscally, as I was saying, we have a principle that tells us how many dollars can people take away from the country. But there are no restrictions to the international capital that is in the banks – BBVA, Santander, for example, they have no restrictions in terms of their mobility of capital. By contrast, go to the U.S. as foreign capital, invest in a business, and see if in one year the country lets you recoup 100% of your investments (a legacy of the economic domination to which we were subject in the past). And then capitalists complain that too many restrictions are being placed on investment!

I started talking about the misiones, and the attempts at discrediting Bolivarian Venezuela at an international level. This is a Venezuela that in macro terms one could say that is based on three things: (1) control of the petroleum resource; (2) fiscal discipline, which here means putting cap on the amount of capital that can exit the country and the imposition of taxes; (3) building the social foundations for a revolution, both cultural and educative. That is what a misión is. That is why misiones are being attacked. Here we are at the beginning of a revolution. Of course, if a revolution is not cultural and educational, then it is not a revolution. If you cannot ensure a cultural and educational change in a whole population, the revolution will not happen. Four years ago Fidel Castro said that we are entering a new phase in the battle against imperialism. The phase we are entering is the war of ideas. The new napalm charges are the charges against education. Yet they will not be able to take us over, not because we will resist in tunnels as did the heroic people of Vietnam. Instead, we will win because we are raising the flag of Robinson, the red and blue flag that marks that a community or a village is free of illiteracy, this flag of dignity. This, of course, is merely a seed. It’s not that we are satisfied with the fact that Robinson has made about a million and a half people literate. We are not satisfied with the fact that we have about a million people completing sixth grade through the misiones. We are not satisfied with having 300,000 new high-school graduates through the misiones or for having over 300,000 in Sucre. We are happy to see that we are on to the right path, but we are not satisfied with that.

Are there any historical precedents for what is going on here in terms of education, nationally or internationally that are useful to think about? Are there models that have been useful from the past, other than the Cuban literacy programs?

In Venezuelan history there is no precedent. In 1958 and 1959 there were important efforts towards granting rights to people. In 1958 there was a transition from a dictatorial government to a democratic government that in the very beginning wanted to be nationalist, but the effort was quickly aborted. In the very late 1950s, then, there was an attempt at building an educational system for everyone, that of Luis Beltrán Prieto Figueroa, of the governing party, Acción Democrática. His ideas were those of massification of education, which would have allowed for more people to have access to education, but it did not last long. Shortly after, through the 1960s, higher education was strangled as it was seen as an enemy. That was followed by an invasion of the Universidad Central de Venezuela by president Rafael Caldera, again because education was seen as an enemy. Those who were in favor of the entering of tanks in the UCV are the same people who are against the misiones today. (I am speaking generally, of course because we also see that at the UCV today, and in general in the academia, professors who were in the left then have turned to the right now that the left is in power. Theirs is a way of being in the left that in contingent upon being able to keep privilege and live in a world apart from the world of the poor, of the barrio.)

Successful histories of literacy include Cuba in the 1960s and Nicaragua in the 1980s with the Sandinistas. Paulo Freire was there. Also important are the levels of alphabetization in Brazil, which are not enough for the size of the country, but in fact they are alphabetizing more than 100,000 a year. One thing about our misiones is that they are providing people with their rights today. You cannot delay the people’s right to having access to education. You cannot delay the fulfilling of rights. Education is like health – you cannot postpone someone’s right to a good health-care system.

If you had told someone a decade ago that the educational system was going to admit 340,000 new university students in three years, they would have said it was strictly impossible. But the Bolivarian education system has done much more than this: in education and in other areas the revolution makes leaps forward that exceed what was previously imaginable.

 

When the extraordinary becomes quotidian, then we are in a revolution – this is something that Che said. When we alphabetized a million and a half people in one year, that was extraordinary. Compared to the fact that, before, 8000 people were alphabetized each year – compared with that, well the numbers now are extraordinary. That is quantitative reading – achieving the incorporation of everyone – but there is also a qualitative reading. The misiones are not only a success for the government: they are a success for and by for the people. The misiones exist because there is a commitment on the part of 1.5 million people to learn how to read and write. That is a qualitative value. In the our most successful year between the election of Chávez in 1998 and 2003, we incorporated 37,000 into higher education – we were proud because in 1998 it was 12,000. Yet in November of 2003, 90,000 people were incorporated into higher education. How was that done? Because we had the commitment from local authorities, the commitment from the state, the commitment from the people. The people supporting the people, that is the success of the misiones. That is the most important qualitative success – and it is experiential. The people educating the people, the people saving the people. The greatest accomplishment of Chávez has been his empowerment of the people. The people are taking a leading role here. Of the Cuban doctors who came for Barrio Adentro, more than half are hosted by families. Can you imagine the infrastructure that would be needed to host 10,000 doctors near their Barrio Adentro module? But we had 10,000 Venezuelan patriots who said that they had a room in their home for the doctors, or had a spare room that could be turned into a consulting room for a Barrio Adentro. In the educational misiones, their success is not because we produce the books and give them free to our students – that is our obligation. The success of the misiones is due to a will on the part of the people to overcome, to improve themselves and their communities. And it is the obligation of the government apparatus to legitimate that effort.

No matter what, the government will be there to support the people. Something new and important is the Ley de consejos comunales. The power in the hands of the people. I now wonder, for instance, why is it that the consejos comunales are not the ones telling us who should attend Sucre. If we think that the neighbor does not care enough about his community to know who should go to school, we are wrong. We cannot take students into the higher education system based solely on the numbers of their exams or the school they come from. Of the 1000 that graduated at the Bolivariana recently, 600 of them would not have made it on the number, because they did not receive a privileged education. And yet all of them are going back to their communities and working there.

We are not yet in the time of the harvest. We have planted and we are seeing the first plants sprout, and we are watering them. The first shoots will make a revolution – that will be the harvest. If you ask me what is the most important qualitative thing – I will say, to have, as a government, believed in the power of the people. Believing that the people could create a Misión Sucre space or a Barrio Adentro in someone’s living room. Believing that it was the people’s initiative to do so. This is what makes our revolution. And the attacks on the revolution aim to discredit with a numerical algorithm what is being done, on an experiential level, with the people. But in addition to that, we are doing it in terms that can be measured numerically. The worst thing about those who are denigrating the misiones is that they are denying that the people are a historical subject that is capable of carrying a revolution forward.

We are not in socialism yet. We are just beginning to walk the path that will take us toward a 21st century socialism. That is why Chávez talks about 2021 and 2030 – because he is conscious of the scope of the goals that have been set. From 2002-2003 – the year when this process was radicalized – to here, this is not enough time.

Interview date: 13 and 16 October, 2006. Translated by Cira Pascual Marquina and Chris Gilbert.



[1]               “Misión” is used in by the Bolivarian government to denote a series of social programs funded by petroleum rents that are aimed at adjusting social debt. It carries no religious significance.

[2]               The Fourth Republic was the Venezuelan government from 1958 to 1999, a period of sham democracy with two-party system known as puntofijismo that guaranteed Venezuela’s ongoing exploitation by the United States and Europe.

[3]               In early 2006, the new Ley de consejos comunales laid out the process by which the organized communities could control the local application of public funding.